How Do Online Estate Agents Make Money?

How Do Online Estate Agents Make Money?
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They are known for their low fees, but, how do online estate agents make money?

Everyone wants to save money when selling their home and online agents appear to offer a good opportunity to do that.

However, if that comes with the added compromise of a lesser service, is it worthwhile? 

We sold with an online estate agent in 2020/21 so we’re able to give an insight based on our first-hand experience to help you answer the question ‘how do online estate agents make money?’

Upfront Fees

Most online agents offer their services for a lower upfront payment. Typically this will be less than £1,000 regardless of the value of your home.

Some see this as such a low price that it’s impossible for the agent to provide as good a service as a high street agent who typically charges several thousands of pounds.

However, since high street agents operate mostly on a commission basis and only get paid when a property sells, they need to charge more to cover all the time they’ll spend marketing properties that don’t sell.

In other words, online agents can charge low upfront fees because the homeowner isn’t subsidising all of the people who list their properties but don’t find a buyer.

That said, the ground is slowly shifting on this. Most online estate agents now offer a ‘no sale, no fee’ option and we are seeing an increasing number of high street agents offering fixed upfront prices too.

When we sold, we found that the online estate agents were still cheaper than the high street agents on both option. So, it shows this is the only factor in how they make money.

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Economies Of Scale

Their pricing model isn’t the only reason online estate agents can get away with charging less.

Because they usually operate nationwide, they can benefit from more economies of scale than a smaller, local agent.

In fact, despite only being around for a few years, some of the biggest UK estate agents in terms of the number of instructions are online estate agents.

That gives them savings that can be passed on to the customer, thereby allowing the agent to make more money, despite charging less.

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Low Overheads

Online agents tend to only have one head office and forgo the need for small branches on local high streets.

They achieve this by employing local experts who value homes and take photographs, etc in one specific area. They do not need to be office based since most of their work is carried out travelling to and from customers homes.

Online Estate Agents With Low Overheads

The support, marketing, offer negotiation and sales progression teams are then located within the main office.

Since an online estate agent will usually only have one office to run, they benefit from much lower overheads. This allows them to make money even on low fees.

Charging For Extras

One of the ways online estate agents make money is by charging for some extras that you might normally expect a traditional estate agent to include as part of their package.

For instance, most online agents will expect you to conduct your own house viewings. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as you may find you’re better at selling your home to prospective buyers than qualified estate agents!

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If you don’t want to do viewings yourself, you would have to add on a hosted viewings package (if available) which typically costs another £300-£360.

Other extras can include upgrades to your property listing, EPC’s, and sales accelerator packages.

Each extra you take earns the online estate agent more money and makes it easier for them to sustain their low fees.

When we sold through an online estate agent, we took their no sale, no fee package that included all the key things we needed. However, had we not wanted to conduct our own viewings, we would have had to pay extra for that.

We also paid a little more part-way through our listing to give it a boost on Rightmove, though in fairness, even high street estate agents would have probably charged us for that!

Recommending Additional Services

All types of estate agents usually have a number of extra services they can recommend in order to boost their earnings.

For example, you’ll often be asked if you have spoken to a mortgage advisor or if you need to find a conveyancer.

This is because both online estate agents and high street ones have relationships with providers of such services and receive a kickback for each new client they refer to the other business.

This allows them to bump up their earnings and increase their profit margins.

Again, the economies of scale play a big part here. If online agents can take on more clients, they can upsell to more additional services and therefore generate more income.

The question of whether you should use your estate agent’s solicitor and other recommended services is open to debate. We’ve used the companies recommended by estate agents before and some have been good, some not so much.

Whichever way you go, make sure you do proper research and check reviews before committing to any services.

Online Estate Agents Using Rightmove

Other than the typical running costs such as staff wages and office rental and utility charges, one of the other major costs for estate agents is advertising properties.

Property portals such as Rightmove and Zoopla only allow estate agents to advertise properties on their websites. However, they do charge estate agents for this privilege.

Since virtually all online estate agents are now using Rightmove and the other portals, this contributes a significant amount to their overheads.

Although each portal is different, estate agents will usually be paying anywhere from £500 to £2,000 a month to be able to list properties on a portal.

When you consider the number of properties an agent is listing every month, you realise they don’t actually need to sell many to cover the costs of listing all of their properties.

And that is one of the main reasons why online and hybrid estate agents can charge less, particularly when charging an upfront fee.

Our Top-Rated Online Estate Agents:

Estate AgentCheapest Package'No Sale, No Fee'Our RatingReviewOfficial Site
Yopa Estate Agent£999£1,999
Read ReviewVisit Website
Purplebricks ReviewsFREEFREE
Read ReviewVisit Website
Griffin Property Reviews£245From £595
Read ReviewVisit Website

View All >

Online Estate Agents Vs High Street

We have touched already on some of the differences between online estate agents Vs high street estate agents when it comes to how they make money.

High street estate agents operate with high costs due to the fact they often have multiple offices to run in prominent locations. They also usually have a narrow scope of the area they can find new customers in.

Online Estate Agents Vs High Street

Add to that the fact they rely almost exclusively on commission-based fees and only earn money when properties are sold and you can see why high street estate agents are so expensive.

Online estate agents, on the other hand, have few offices to run, can accept new customers all over the country, and often use a mixture of upfront pricing and commission-based pricing.

This gives them better cash flow, more profit margin, and ultimately more savings they can pass on to the customer in order to remain competitive.

Online Estate Agents No Sale, No Fee

As we briefly mentioned, not all online agents rely exclusively on upfront pricing in order to make money. Many also offer a pay only on completion option.

The number of online estate agents with no sale, no fee has grown significantly over the past year or so. In fact, there are now even online agents that work ONLY on a no sale, no fee basis.

The advantage to the homeowner is that it puts all of the risk on to the agent. If the property doesn’t sell, the homeowner doesn’t pay anything. This also means the estate agent is more motivated to sell your home as its the only way they’ll earn money.

The downside to the homeowner is that the fee will usually be more than if they had paid upfront. That’s because, like with high street agents, you’ll be subsidising the marketing of the properties that haven’t been successfully sold.

There’s no right or wrong answer as to whether upfront fees or payment on completion is the better option.

It depends entirely on your attitude to risk, the likelihood of you finding a buyer for your property, and how important getting the cheapest possible price is to you.

When we sold with an online agent, we preferred to go with the higher priced no sale, no fee option simply because we weren’t confident we could find a buyer at our asking price. Our home had an unusual layout that didn’t work for many families and so we had to be patient to find the right person.

Disadvantages Of Online Estate Agents

We have spoken a lot about the advantages of online estate agents and how they can charge less because it’s easier for them to make money.

The truth is that online agents have improved immensely over the last few years and now offer a comparable service to a high street agent but at a much lower cost.

You can see the best online estate agents that we recommend on our comparison page.

However, there are also a few disadvantages of online agents that you should be aware of.

Firstly, as there is no local office, you can’t just pop in and speak to someone face to face. Instead, you’ll be dealing with people over phone or email for most of the process.

We never found this to be an issue as our agent was available on the phone even on evenings and weekends. Still, if you prefer face to face contact, this might be a problem for you.

Also, because online agents cover a larger area, their local knowledge may not be quite up to the same standards as a high street agent.

Though in our experience, the level of local knowledge was still strong with online agents, and they were actually more knowledgeable about techniques to help maximise your sale potential.

You’ll also need to look out for hidden fees as a few online agents charge extra if you choose not to use their conveyancing service. This isn’t as common as it once was but can still happen with some of the less reputable online agents.

Despite all those negatives, online estate agents remain one of the best ways to sell your home. You can check out our online estate agent reviews to find the one most suited to your needs.

Our Top-Rated Online Estate Agents:

Estate AgentCheapest Package'No Sale, No Fee'Our RatingReviewOfficial Site
Yopa Estate Agent£999£1,999
Read ReviewVisit Website
Purplebricks ReviewsFREEFREE
Read ReviewVisit Website
Griffin Property Reviews£245From £595
Read ReviewVisit Website

View All >


  • Paul James

    Paul James, is a marketing expert with a passion for property. As well as being a property investor, Paul has also worked within the marketing departments of some of the UK’s leading estate agents. Paul is the founder of Property Road.

    View all posts
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